I recently finished playing through Plants vs. Zombies. What a great game! It pits two of my favorite things against each other. Zombies are always awesome and as someone who grows carnivorous plants, I’m all about a game where I cultivate a garden of attack plants. Plants vs. Zombies is very well done, has a high replay value, and brings something new to its game genre (more on this later). The game has a large menagerie of zombies to throw at you and it gives you a wide variety of plants to defend with — featuring among others, zombie Michael Jacksons, pole vaulting zombies, watermelon catapults, potato mines, and angry squash who, well, squash.
Playing through the campaign a second time, you’re allowed to use all the plants you’ve unlocked, which lets you try different strategies. Plus its mini games are pretty fun as well. There are a few Steam achievements I want to complete and a few more things to unlock, but I pretty much rocked it – if I do say so myself. I highly recommend checking it out. The price is totally reasonable.
I raved about the game to a friend of mine and he groaned, “Geez, not another tower defense game.” I hadn’t heard that term before. Tower defense is a game genre where you defend your territory against incoming hordes of enemies. As the game progresses, more enemies arrive and generally you’re given more advanced weapons and defenses to deal with them. I’ve seen many iterations, whether the enemies are zombies or little blob monsters; the basic concept is the same—stop them.
That got me thinking. Why do I keep playing games in this genre? I do love strategy games, but tower defense is so one sided. There’s no offense. I’m not scouting unknown territory, attacking an opponent’s base, going after their supply lines, etc.
After some self reflection, I discovered that I play tower defense games because they’re geared to my strengths. When it comes to strategy games in general, whether it’s a video game, board game, or table top war game, my tactics are the same: build up a central base of power, ensure that its defenses are impregnable, stave off all attacks, and respond to enemies with crushing counter attacks. Tower defense is all that except the counter attacks.
In the board game Risk, I grab a continent, expand only to get the card at the end of my turn, build up a massive army while ensuring a solid defense, and then crush all in my path.
In the table top game Warhammer 40K, my favorite race to play with are the undead robotic Necrons. Though slow moving, they are the toughest army out there. Necrons can take a beating, stand back up, and return fire with force. They’re perfect for my style of play, allowing me to fortify a position and let the enemy come to me. If I must move, I can move as a giant hammer with faster units protecting my flanks.
I like the Warhammer 40K inspired video game, Dawn of War but it doesn’t quite instigate the same “Oh Sh**” feeling in your opponents when Necrons come back to life as they do in the table top game. I’ve never been a huge fan of real-time-strategy (RTS) video games anyway. I do enjoy base building as it appeals to my defensive mind-set; I like putting up perimeters of turrets and setting fields of mines. RTS games are generally great for this, but too often games in that genre boil down to rock-paper-scissors combat won by whoever can crank out units the fastest.
Though not pure tower defense, Evil Genius has many elements of the genre that makes it one of my favorite games. You’re a villain who establishes his lair in a volcanic mountain-side. You build your base within the mountain, recruit minions, and commit acts of infamy throughout the world. As your evil reputation rises, agents of justice try to break into your base and stop your plans. You use your minions in different ways to keep the agents from infiltrating the depths of your fortress or you may use devious traps to capture or kill the do-gooders. Evil Genius goes right to the heart of what I enjoy in strategy games: building impenetrable defenses to thwart incoming enemies. I love setting up chains of traps that are just plain mean. If some of my minions fall into them along with the stupid heroes, so be it, right?
Most tower defense games work in the same fashion: enemies follow a set path, you build towers to attack them on their way, upgrade said towers to defeat tougher enemies, rinse and repeat. A plethora of online Flash games stick to that formula exactly. A game that I’ve been putting a lot of hours into lately is Defense Grid: The Awakening. While it isn’t a Flash game, it doesn’t necessary break from that blueprint. What sets it apart and makes it worth paying money for is a high production value, a non-obtrusive story that fits the game, and a large variety of enemies and defenses to play with. Also, being available on Steam means that it has a lot of achievements to aim for – adding a little more purpose and challenge to the game.
This leads me to another reason why I love Plants vs. Zombies so much. The game is the first I’ve played where the hordes of attackers coming in can actually take out your defenses on their way to their goal. In most pure tower defense games your defenses are never in danger and can’t be destroyed; they only serve to obstruct, re-route, or attack invaders. In Plants vs. Zombies not only are you trying to stop zombies from getting to your house, you’re also thinking of ways to protect the plants guarding the house. You can grow walls of rock hard nuts, repel zombies with foul tasting garlic, or turn them against each other with psychedelic mushrooms, among many other flora-based defensive strategies.
While considering tower defense and after some rumination over my tactics in strategy games in general, I’ve made it my mission to learn some other fighting styles.
While I work that out, I’m going to keep unlocking stuff in Plants vs. Zombies. My brains are safe while my garden still stands. Even zombie bob-sled teams don’t have a chance against the bastion that is my front yard.